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RE: [html4all] 5 gears in reverse - anne v k enters the alt attributedebate

From: John Foliot <foliot@wats.ca>
Date: Fri, 21 Sep 2007 16:51:15 -0700
To: "'Anne van Kesteren'" <annevk@opera.com>
Cc: <www-archive@w3.org>, "'html advocacy'" <talk@html4all.org>
Message-ID: <01d801c7fcaa$4c971c80$0301a8c0@Piglet>

Anne van Kesteren wrote:
> On Fri, 21 Sep 2007 23:37:35 +0200, John Foliot <foliot@wats.ca>
> wrote: 
>> While Anne may not find it necessary to add alternative text, he is
>> not dependant on it, thus his motivations for adding or not adding
>> are skewed by his personal perception and reality.
> 
> This seems to miss the point of the article.

What is/was the point then?  You are positing a 'justification' for not
providing alternative text that essentially boils down to your, "..not
finding it necessary to provide replacement text for all those images. This
would take too much time for little benefit."  Anne, those are your words, I
am not misquoting you am I?

This might be your justification, but it does not address *any*
accessibility issues - it only makes your life easier. It, in-and-of-itself,
is not a *reason* to not provide alternative text. What *is* that building
in Boston? Why did you photograph it?  There is obviously a reason why you
seek to share it online, share that reason with those who cannot see it as
well.  It's a poor workman who blames his tools.

The fear that I (and others like myself have) is that once you can justify
this, then it's easy to continue to find use-case scenarios where once again
the author can 'justify' not doing something, and can happily claim that
they are still "in conformance".  I saw absolutely nothing in the example
page you provided that indicated that there was a technical reason why you
could not provide alternative text - you just felt it would take too much
time.  It's wrong.

> 
> 
>> *THAT's* why making the alt attribute mandatory is so wrong.
> 
> I assume you meant the opposite? 

Yes, I meant optional.

What I mean is that images should *always* have an alternative descriptor of
some sort or other (even if it is the worst of all: alt=""). The reason for
this is very simple: before an author can "finalize" the insertion of the
image into their document, they will be prompted to (*must*) provide some
kind of alternative text; without it their document becomes "non-conformant"
(heck WYSIWYG authoring tools should not continue - the "submit button"
should be grayed out until a value is provided).  Will uninformed or lazy
authors still use null values (alt="") - of course they will.  But the
authoring tool will always "remind" them that they could/should do better.
By establishing this context, then all that is needed is education.    

> I'm also not really sure what
> requiring it improves? If it's required I'd have to add three
> characters to make my application pass the machine checkable
> conformance criteria: <img alt>. Would that help anyone?

By itself, no.  But it establishes that there *should* be a value there -
always.  The option of *not* providing useable alternative text still
remains, but that's a social issue, not a mechanical one - user agents
should be smart enough to have multiple ways of digesting and handling a
simple text string of alt="".  

The largest fear however is if the spec emerges that suggests that it's OK
to "sometimes" not provide alternative text, that the "sometimes" will
become open to interpretation, misusue and abuse (despite best intentions).
The HTML5 spec says "In certain rare cases, the image is simply a critical
part of the content, and there might even be no alternative text
available...In such cases, the alt attribute may be omitted."  However you
said you did not find "...it necessary to provide replacement text for all
those images. This would take too much time for little benefit."  AND ANNE,
THAT RIGHT THERE IS EXACTLY THE WHOLE POINT!  It became a subjective
decision, based on your opinion, rather than a pure-play technical reason.
Technically you *could* add alternative text to your slideshow images, you
just personally felt that it would take too long for little benefit.  It
need not happen.

What I am having the hardest time understanding however is *why* the HTML5
authors feel this (the option to have no alternative text) is important.
How can anyone justify it's benefit to accessibility?  I'm not arguing that
alt="" is right, but no alternative text at all is even "wronger", and using
scenarios such as Flickr, Photobucket and your image viewer only illustrate
the flaws in those tools - it still does not justify the fact that those
images *should* have some usable alternative text.

How can a group that wants to dismiss LONGDESC because it is flawed at the
same time condone authoring tools that are flawed and seek to write a SPEC
to forgive those flaws?

> 
> The scenario we're trying to solve is what's the best technical
> solution for everyone if you have these contraints:
> 
>    1. The user is not going to be bothered providing replacement text.
>       (Or any other metadata for that matter.)

Then they have a non-conforming page.  Authoring tools, "mandated" by a spec
to always include alternative text with images, will "bother" content
contributors each and every time, asking for alternative text.  If you want
to avoid it, fine, but I want to make it difficult for you to avoid.  That's
"social engineering", as opposed to mechanical (technical) engineering.
Time and time again, it's not always the code/spec that has it wrong, oft
times it is the authoring tools and the lack of education.  There is no need
to throw the baby out with the bathwater!

>    2. The application author wants all his pages to be conforming.
>       (Well, at least for the machine checkable criteria.)
> 

Anne, I want to be buff like Vin Diesel
[http://www.threebrain.com/news/vin.jpg], but I don't want to go to the gym.
If you want to be in conformance, then do the work.  

The spec should insist that inline images (as opposed to CSS supplied
"decorative" images) have alternative text, and preferably something that is
user friendly - full stop.  The author group needs to stop trying to
determine what is user friendly... You can no more decide what works for any
given user than you can ascertain what flavor of ice-cream they prefer (or
even if they eat ice-cream...)

> 
> (Removing html4all list as I don't think I can post there.)

Collectively we are finalizing some internal housework, after which anyone
who wishes to participate can.  We have a particular take on things that
often is in contrast to that of the HTML5 WG's point of view, but we are by
definition "for all".

JF
(trying *very* hard to remain rational, on topic, and respectful)
Received on Friday, 21 September 2007 23:51:41 UTC

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